The Driverless Commute: A light pollution solution in AVs; Tesla-taxis; and Waymo’s app is up for download

1. Seeing in the dark

Nighttime skyline

A new paper published this month in the journal of Science and Engineering Ethics posits that autonomous vehicles could help break the industrialized world’s addiction to artificial nighttime light.

  • Light pollution from cars, street and parking lot lamps all wreak havoc on our natural world. Seduced by the other-worldly glow of towers and lamps, insects are lured to their doom, baby turtles are beached and birds crash and clatter.
  • Street and parking lot light represent some 90 percent of all outdoor illumination from the industrialized world.
  • 1.6 percent of all energy consumed globally is poured into streetlights while headlights consume roughly 3 percent of vehicular fuel.
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The Driverless Commute: Is 2019 a bear turn for AVs?; the fight over connected car communication divides car makers in Europe; cheaper, lighter LiDAR and machine-learning for lane-keeping.

1. A bear year

2018 was the year of the driverless car.

No, they didn’t become commercially available and they failed to traverse the realm of true autonomy, but they captured the public’s imagination and sometimes paranoia in a way unlike ever before. Finally, it wasn’t just artificial intelligence researchers talking about autonomous vehicles, but regular Joes drawn in equal parts fascination and fear to the subject.

But now the honeymoon is over.

After throwing money at startups like drunken sailors for years, the industry has signaled a coming retrenchment. Rather than more multi-billion dollar acquisitions, expect to hear about reoganizations and partnerships that would have been unthinkable only years earlier.

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The Driverless Commute: Disengagement reports from China to California and lessons for AV sector in jet crashes

1. Beijing just issued AV report cards. Here’s why you should use California’s instead.

China autonomous vehicles  - Beijing AV report

Beijing transportation officials offered this week a first, if severely constrained, glimpse into the country’s autonomous vehicle industry, saying in a new report that eight licensed self-driving firms had logged more than 150,000 kilometers on public roads last year in the Chinese capital.

Ninety percent of that distance was managed by just one operator, search giant Baidu, which also leads the pack in number of test vehicles.

Reports on test driving stats for self-driving vehicles by various autonomous vehicle firms.

Notably absent from the government’s report are measures of disengagements, though a parallel report by a private think tank using voluntary data described 23 situations in which safety drivers were required to assume control of the cars.

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The Driverless Commute: GM’s driverless exemption petition advances, but key questions for industry remains; a driver’s test for driverless cars; and robo-race car to edge test

1. NHTSA advances GM’s FMVSS exemption bid. But we still don’t have answers on liability.

Car from GM Cruise LLC, a driverless  car company that tests and develops autonomous car technology.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is airing for public comment two petitions to deploy on public roads vehicles that lack conventional controls like a steering wheel or pedals.

The move came some fourteen months after General Motors first asked federal regulators for a temporary exemption from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The automaker asked the agency in January 2018 for 16 human-driver-based exemptions from FMVSS with the hope it could deploy a fleet of robocabs later this year. (You can read their petition here.)

If approved, federal regulators would be endorsing the bold proposition that autonomous vehicles (these ones, at least) can deliver a standard of safety equivalent to what is already required of existing cars, but the long wait is evidence that catching the feds’ green light is neither easy nor assured.

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The Driverless Commute: Trump doesn’t like AVs. He’s not alone. So what does it mean for his administration?

1. Rage against the machine(s)

Ford Argo AI self-driving test car zooming through Washington D.C.

Donald Trump doesn’t use a computer. He doesn’t send or receive text messages or emails, preferring instead to annotate print-outs and have aides send scanned copies. He doesn’t carry a cell phone, but he sometimes consumes media on a tablet, which his handlers know as “the flat one.”

Sure, Trump may be living an analog life, but his administration isn’t.

Indeed, autonomous vehicles—at once the world’s most audacious and least-trusted form of artificial intelligence—have in Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao one of the technology’s most committed cheerleaders.

Just last week, Chao, whose practiced light-touch has allowed the technology to flourish, announced the creation of a new commission within DOT tasked with promoting emerging transportation tech like self-driving cars.

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The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: How programmer bias will be reflected in AI platforms; a case for public investment in AV access; and Waymo, GM & Ford top new AV leaderboard

1. When an engineer’s implicit bias becomes a computer’s

Autonomous Vehicle (AV) LIDAR sensor

Can the machine learning algorithms that underpin the operation of autonomous vehicles perpetuate—or worsen, even—social, structural biases against people of color?

Maybe, according to a new paper (PDF) from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where researchers tested the accuracy of object detection systems (not unlike those used in driverless cars) in positively identifying pedestrians of varying skin colors.

Researchers paid human test subjects to review a collection of 3,500 images of people of varying skin tones and to mark each photograph with “LS” or “DS” to designate light or dark skin of the subject.

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